Heritage Victoria has warned Central Pier in Docklands – which is more than 100 years old – cannot be demolished without a permit because it is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.
And Melbourne City councillor Jackie Watts has called for “staunch and urgent advocacy” to halt the “unjustifiable decision” to demolish the historic wooden pier, which she says is the “crown jewel” of Victoria Harbour.
More than 1000 jobs will be lost after Development Victoria made the shock announcement last week it would demolish Central Pier – which housed function spaces, offices and restaurants – due to safety concerns.
It said despite $7 million being spent on repair works over the past three years, “the rate of deterioration to the piles that support the pier is accelerating due to rot, marine borer and termite attacks”.
“Regrettably it means the pier will have to be demolished and completely rebuilt,” Development Victoria’s Geoff Ward told Channel Seven on Friday.
But Heritage Victoria executive director Steven Avery said a permit from Heritage Victoria was required for any change to a registered heritage place, including for demolition.
“Victoria Dock including Central Pier is of State significance and included on the Victorian Heritage Register,” Mr Avery said.
The Heritage Act 2017 requires Mr Avery to consider the cultural heritage significance and public submissions when deciding whether to grant a permit to demolish or change the pier.
The National Trust (Victoria) said it recognised Victoria Dock and Central Pier as a place of both state and national significance.
“While Docklands has witnessed great change in recent decades, our remaining maritime heritage tells the story of Melbourne’s role as one of the world’s major ports, and should be celebrated,” chief executive officer Simon Ambrose said.
We encourage Development Victoria to commit to the long-term restoration and maintenance of Central Pier. – National Trust (Victoria) CEO Simon Ambrose
Development Victoria chief executive Angela Skandarajah said the agency was working with Heritage Victoria to understand how the pier’s heritage components could be retained as part of a replacement structure.
Development Victoria has come under fire over its handling of Central Pier – which has been closed since it was dramatically evacuated in August – with businesses accusing it of “misleading and deceptive conduct” in legal action before the Federal Court.
They also accuse Development Victoria of deliberately timing Friday’s announcement of the closure of the pier – three days before the decision was due – when the state was preoccupied by raging bushfires.
Ms Skandarajah said once a decision had been made “we wanted to provide this advice to the tenant as soon as possible”.
Development Victoria said engineers had been inspecting the pier every two months since November 2018.
“It was during these inspections the accelerated deterioration of the pier was revealed and the advice given by our engineers that the pier was no longer safe for occupation. As soon as Development Victoria received this information the pier was closed.”
Nick Ellul, the general manager of Austage Venues, which provided audio-visual equipment and services for events held at Shed 14, said the evacuation had been ordered after guests had been served entree during a gala dinner on August 28.
How could things have been so mismanaged? I feel like I am living an episode of Utopia. – Austage Venues general manager Nick Ellul
“If they had been inspecting every two months why did the gala dinner have to be evacuated in the middle of the night?” Mr Ellul said. “How could things have been so mismanaged to have got to that? I feel like I am living an episode of Utopia.”
Mr Ellul said tenants were refused entry to the pier for the first month after the evacuation, which meant he was forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire audio-visual equipment for functions at other venues.
He said they had still only been able to retrieve half of the assets, with Development Victoria yet to come up with a plan for how to remove the heavier equipment.
Mr Ellul said he would be forced to retrench his 30 employees, some of whom had worked for him for 10 years and were like family.
He said Development Victoria had been “completely callous”, informing tenants of the decision to permanently close the pier last week at the same time it was released in the media.
“Our business we have built for 10 years has been completely devastated because people were incompetent with the maintenance of the pier,” Mr Ellul said.
Opposition priority precincts spokesman David Davis said the government’s handling of the pier had been a disaster.
“It’s just terrible incompetence that has caused enormous damage to these businesses and cost hundreds of jobs,” Mr Davis said.
“I accept there are problems but why weren’t they picked up earlier and dealt with?”